The Single National Curriculum Is A Device Of Indoctrination And Assimilation
Pakistan’s quest for common cross cutting identity has been at most exclusive and marginalizing; sowing disenfranchisement, discontent and deeper sense of deprivation in left out communities. Since its inception on the world map, Pakistan has been very obsessed with finding such a collective identity for the new ‘nation-state’. This quest is indicative in all the education policies and the consequent curricula designed in Pakistan.
This overwhelming emphasis on an identity through public education in Pakistan has made education a mere tool of nation building at the cost of critical thinking, civic imagination; and at the expense of values such as respect for diversity, empathy and co-existence. The homogenization project in Pakistan through education is very much evident in its policies since 1947 and in the recently deigned Single National Curriculum by the incumbent government led by Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) i.e. Pakistan movement for justice, which, many in Pakistan think, was installed by the military establishment back in 2018, is not different.
Since the Single National Curriculum of 2020 was made public in Pakistan it has rightly attracted a great deal of commentaries from educationists, academia and media. The debate is usually focused on multiple questions, predominantly on, why Pakistan needs such a curriculum by the federal government when education was devolved to the provinces through the 18th constitutional amendment to Pakistan’s constitution in 2010? The critics find the Single National Curriculum as a means to reverse the devolution of power to the provinces at the behest of the powerful military establishment that has, time and again, expressed their distress over the 18th Amendment. These critics also regard the new curriculum a device to further indoctrinate an already conservative society.
A curriculum consists of a body of knowledge—contents to be taught—a set of the learning outcomes expected from the learners, a guide as how to achieve these objectives and methods to measure these outcomes. In simple words, it is a document for an education with what objectives the education is expected to achieve, what process to be applied to meet that end and how to measure the expected learning outcomes.
The proponents of Single National Curriculum premise the rationale for it on the lofty goal of equal education system, meaning the equal opportunity in education for everyone. Since education in Pakistan is starkly divided on lines of equality of opportunity and access, quality of learning, aim of education, social class and income of parents, therefore, the idea of an ‘equal’ education system tapped the imagination of majority of people in Pakistan. And they bought the idea willingly.
But what the Pakistanis got in the name of ‘equal education system’ is a set of centralized objectives, rules and guidelines lacking sound research of education in the background and lacking a proper inclusive national consultation.
The Single National Curriculum seems to be more concerned on the political and moral aims while ignoring the cognitive and behavioral objectives of education. It is discernible in the documents, and is also evident in arguments put in defense of it by the education minister and his advisors. Two major concerns overwhelm the vision behind: the zeal to bring the madrasahs—schools for religious teachings where Islam is exclusively taught—to the mainstream public education and building of a ‘single’ homogenous Pakistani nation.
The madrasahas of Pakistan are mostly held by the West as sanctuaries of religious extremism and terrorism. Regularizing madrasahs in Pakistan has always been a contested issue. No government in Pakistan has ever been able to reform the madrasah education. These religious schools cater to the needs of the very poor echelons of the society and are like boarding schools for the children of the lower classes where the students not only get education free of cost but food and shelter as well. Pakistan has always been under the international pressure to reform and regularize these religious schools. As every attempt for reforming the madrasahs in the past was forcibly resisted, the incumbent government seems to ‘mainstream’ the madrasah education by conceding more space to the religious leaders through insertion of more religious contents from the madrasa curriculum into public school system so as to avoid any backlash. The latter is already brimming with such contents. Additionally, the current government led by an Oxford educated former cricketer, whom many blame for being a former playboy as well, uses Islamic symbols and the idiom of Riyasat-i-Madina—the ideal Islamic state of Madina under the rulership of Muhammad (peace be upon him)—to touch the utopian imagination of the ordinary Pakistanis so as to hold sway over power amidst a polarized society. This factor has also its role in the design of the Single National Curriculum that aims at appeasing the powerful religious and security lobby. Hence the emphasis on Islamic teachings, building a homogenous Pakistani ‘nation’, and emphasis on the use of Urdu as a subject, an ideology and medium of course books across all schools.
The Urdu language is treated as an ideology, as usual. English is to be taught as a ‘language’, not as a ‘subject’ as the new curriculum states. This statement, though seems very simple, implies much more. It brings the question of a language as carrier of a particular ideology, civilization and ethos. What the planners here think of English is to have it be a bundle of grammatical rules and means of communication only. One wonders how a language can be dissociated from the history, power, culture, values, literature and imagination it carries with it.
The Single National Curriculum is more focused on the political aspect of education by homogenizing the Pakistanis into a single ‘nation’ using assimilation to achieve uniformity in cultural transmission of certain kind of an imposed unified culture denying the right of thriving and growing for other cultures, in order to complete the nation building project. The long sustaining search and resultant crisis of identity is again well evident from the SNC.
Both these aims mean more indoctrination than fostering of creativity and critical thinking in the coming generations of Pakistan through education.
The aim and process of indoctrination could be elaborated as: any form of teaching designed to teach students to accept and adopt beliefs without scrutinizing the evidential support these beliefs may have or not. The method or process used to do this is to instill beliefs in students in such a way that they become unable or unwilling to evaluate or question those beliefs independently. It is a process and form of teaching that encourages students to embrace a specific doctrine: religious or political, without bothering for an evidential support of it. This brings indoctrination in contrast with critical thinking which assesses the beliefs, judgments, and actions on the basis of relevant evidence and reason.
Another pertaining question asked is the inclusion of other Pakistan languages in public education in Pakistan. Multiculturalist approach to education suggests that the values of social justice and respect require that each group’s values, traditions and beliefs should be regarded equally legitimate. Its advocates emphasize that the cultural diversity must also reflect in education.
In Pakistan we have over 66 languages spoken including the major languages such as Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi and Urdu. The diversity of languages, customs, of lifestyles, of basic beliefs, values, and worldviews must also be reflected in the curriculum of a country. Education must not privilege languages and cultures of certain groups.
The Single National Curriculum ignores this cultural diversity of Pakistan and does not deem the ‘other’ languages worthy of either education or of any cultural values though it talks of ‘promotion of diversity of culture and languages especially regional languages of Pakistan’ in the Urdu grade 1-5 curriculum. The ‘other’ languages except the so called ‘regional languages of Pakistan’ will be treated as ‘nonbeing’ as they have always been treated so. Moreover, the SNC says the ‘diversity of culture and languages’ will be taught through Urdu. It means to use Urdu to totally assimilate the other languages and cultures. The regional languages are mentioned because the speakers of these languages have some political clout in Pakistan whereas the speakers of the ‘other’ languages are virtually the ‘creatures of a lesser God’ in Pakistan. They do not have such political clout and usually live on the margins hence denied recognition in Pakistan.
The overwhelming obsession with just the political and moral aims of education and the apathy towards the cultural and linguistic diversity of Pakistan makes the Single National Curriculum a device of propaganda and indoctrination rather than a curriculum.